COVID-19 – Oppression and Class

At the time when cities in the USA and the UK are erupting over the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police it is the time for us to restate the class basis of the attacks on the working class which goes hand in hand with the continued oppression of black people.
As People’s World stated on 1 June 2020 the context is important 50 million jobless and 100,000 dead are the backdrops to what has become a national uprising against police violence targeting Black people. 

Britain’s Road to Socialism states on page 20 – 2020 edition: “ Moreover, capitalism has always utilised differences of sex, ethnicity, education, skill, employment status and mental and physical disability to divide the labour force and drive down wage levels. In Britain, most women workers are still paid less than many men for doing work of equal value. Black and ethnic minority labour is used to fill many of the jobs with low pay and minimal training and promotion opportunities, In particular Trans National Corporations employ young and migrant workers as casual or short term labour on inferior terms and conditions, often to undermine collective agreements reached with trade unions. This super exploitation has been enshrined in law by EU legal judgements and directives.

It is also reinforced by sexist, racist and anti foreigner attitudes. In an imperialist country with a history of empire, such as Britain, racist ideas are deeply rooted, born of the need to dehumanise and demonise colonial peoples in order to win support for their oppression and super exploitation. Today surviving prejudices can still be manipulated by the ruling class as well as by right-wing nationalist or fascist movements. Social inequalities of class and race are further exacerbated by capitalism’s uneven development and structural crises in the regions and nations of Britain.

ll these disparities of income and well-being among working people are therefore a direct result of the way that capital extracts surplus value by fragmenting and segregating labour and exploiting existing oppressions. This process ensures that every generation many more people will face homelessness, insecurity and poverty.”

The Office of National Statistics the UK’s statistical authority in its updated report of 7 May of COVID 19 related deaths by Ethnic Group, England and Wales, concluded that:

  • The provisional analysis has shown that the risk of death involving COVID 19 among some ethnic groups is significantly higher than those of White ethnicity.
  • When taking age into account, Black males are 4.2 times more likely to die from a COVID 19 related death and Black females are 4.3 times more likely than White ethnicity males and females.
  • People of Bangladeshi and Pakistani, Indian and Mixed ethnicities also had statistically significant raised risk of death involving COVID 19 compared with those of White ethnicity.
  • After taking age and other socio demographic characteristics and other measures of self reported health and disability the COVID 19 related deaths for males and females of Black ethnicity remained at 1.9% higher than those of White ethnicity.
  • Similarly males in the Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnic group were 1.8 times more likely to have a COVID 19 related death then White males when age and other socio demographic characteristics and measures of self reported health and disability were taken into account; for females the figure was 1.6 times more likely.
  • These results show the difference between ethnic groups in COVID 19 mortality is partly a result of socio-economic disadvantage and other circumstances, but the remaining part of the difference has not yet been explained.

Responding and uniting people
The Communist Party made the call on 13 May for the establishment of a popular front to combat capitalism’s wish to make our class pay for the inadequate response to the virus. As has been shown with the response to the killing of George Floyd and the disproportionate impact of Covid 19 on Black and Minority people it is vital that we envelop all sections of working class struggle into this response. Failure to do so will leave some people outside of the struggle weakening that struggle. 

Unions have raised urgent concerns over the reopening of schools and the disproportionate impact on black and minority ethnic children. Stand up to Racism has held a number of points linked to the disproportionate impact and made the demand for a full independent review. The Communist Party supports this demand. But it is not enough.

Both the Government and the Labour Party have initiated reviews. Public Health England (PHE)was released its findings in an initial form on 2 June. The latter by Doreen Lawrence has already identified research carried out by the RCN amongst its members which showed that Black and Minority Ethnic nurses were more likely to work without PPE. The TUC has recently initiated a survey amongst members.

The PHE report again identifies the symptoms, the BBC saying that there is a a higher risk of dying amongst ethnic minorities. But again a minister – this time Hancock at the daily briefing said much more needs to be done to understand what is driving these disparities.
Gill Walton from the RCN said while the report’s conclusions were helpful it does nothing to protect people.

The RCN’s survey has shown that there is an increased number of BME workers in the NHS that work in critical care areas and that as PPE was and remains inadequate that such workers are more at risk.

The EHRC stated only a comprehensive race equality strategy will address these issues and has now initiated its own review.

The PHE report has been criticised for leaving parts out for example that from the Muslim Council of Britain which points out matters related to racism and social inequality. Some MPs have demanded that an un-redacted report by published.

Other surveys have spoken about proximity to others who may carry Coronavirus, high population concentrations and the types of work. Immigrant communities as shown by recent concerns expressed amongst the Filipino Community who due to the relationship with their employers are reticent/scared to press for safe working conditions. 

Solomon Hughes again looking at ONS date in his Morning Star Column 29th May, identified those occupations where deaths from COVID 19 were more likely these being: Lower paid and blue colour, taxi drivers, bus drivers, sales assistants and care workers; factory and call centres. Some of these will not have the benefits of having Unions, others because the boss was too slow to act on PPE supply. 
No doubt over the next period more statistical information will be supplied but the nature of employment, poverty, housing, immigrant status will all have an impact. For instance many immigrants will be unable to claim benefits such as SSP and are therefore forced into work. As the Indian Workers Association has stated there are many undocumented migrants in Britain who are not registered although may well be working and are due their status at significant risk. The IWA has made the call that all undocumented migrants should be given legal status, in order that they can access health care. 
BME citizens are found predominately in overcrowded, low paid and insecure jobs. BME health service professionals are paid less, suffer bullying, less able to raise concerns, are racially abused in their workplace and are pressurised to work in high risk areas. Many Doctors believe that the NHS is institutionally racist.

BME Citizens are also impacted by racist immigration legislation, work practises and general attitudes. They will be impacted by right to remain checks in jobs, housing, education and health. Detention Centres are hot spots for the virus. It is the case that discrimination existed prior to coronavirus and exists now. We should have no truck with the genetic argument proffered by some right wing commentators. We must recognise that ethnicity is a social construct.

But such racism has a real impact – deaths in childbirth, people being sectioned under the mental health act, racist attitudes which treat black people’s pain as less valid.
These factors will result in poorer health.

Trade Unions both affiliated and unaffiliated have a key role here and must make efforts to organise the unorganised. 

Our anti austerity campaigning is vital  as austerity as has been reported has a disproportionate impact on the working class and the impact of Covid 19 must now figure in this mix.

Our demand to reset the immigration system is vital if we are going to really challenge government.
Links must be made at local level including with Trade Councils, anti racist bodies etc. in order to build a sustained movement for change.